HOTW: God of God, Light of Light
O Come All Ye Faithful
Have you ever repeated a creed in church? Many of us have at least heard before The Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in God the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth,” is how it begins. Why do churches do that?
In the early years of the church, just like today, the church was plagued by those who wanted to twist the truth of God’s Word to advance their own agenda. The Council of Nicea, a meeting of Christian leaders from all over the known world, was confronted by one of these heresies at their meeting in the year 325. The Arian heresy, named after Arius, one of the men teaching it, had been spreading through many churches. The Arians taught that Jesus Christ was not God, but merely a created being.
Why do we call that a heresy? A heresy is an untruth, or lie, taught about God and His Word. We know that the Arians were teaching heresy because their doctrine is contradicted by the Word of God. John 1 teaches:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Council decided that it was important for real Christians to have a statement that they could all agree on setting forth the essentials of the faith. That statement, as edited by subsequent church councils, became the Nicene Creed, and it is not only one of the most ancient creeds, or doctrinal statements, but it is the only one used frequently in Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic assemblies.
The second verse of O Come All Ye Faithful is taken from the Nicene Creed. In fact, the Latin is taken word for word from the creed. Here’s the creed, translated into English:
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic* and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.
And now, let’s look at the stanza for today:
God of God, Light of Light,**
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;
Do you see where in the creed the different phrases come from? Can you find several of those same phrases in John 1? This is a direct counter to the Arian heresy: Jesus is God of God – the same substance as God the Father. Light of light was a favorite explanation of the co-existence of God the Father and God the Son used by Athanasius, the chief defender of the truth at the council. Many times in Scripture light is used to describe Jesus (Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah 60:1-3, John 1:4-9 above)
Also, Jesus is the Son of the Father, begotten, not created. Jesus is not a part of the creation, but is instead the Creator. It makes all the difference in the world. A mere man could not have died for any sins but his own, only a sinless, infinite God could have died for the sins of many.
The most questions people have about this verse come from the second line, but it is quite understandable when you know church history. Even before the Arians, there was the gnostic heresy which taught that the material world, all matter, is evil and that as a pure spirit – God would abhor becoming flesh. They did not believe that Jesus was a material being at all, but only appeared to come in the flesh. Just as the Arians denied Christ was God, the Gnostics denied that He was man. If He had not come in the flesh, He could not have lived a holy life and died for our sins. The Gnostics teach that man is saved by special knowledge that enables him to gradually leave the material body and become pure spirit.
Why are we going into all this ancient Church history? Because these heresies are alive and well. If you think about it, you can probably identify three or four major cults that teach one of these heresies. Every cult denies at least one of these very essentials of the faith: Christ is God come in the flesh, both God and man, and salvation is by faith in Christ’s substitutionary death alone, not by works or knowledge. It’s essential to teach our children the truth of God and to point out the problems in the counterfeits that Satan will put in their paths.
Enjoy singing with your children the words that Christians have been saying to affirm the essentials of the faith for nearly 1700 years!
*Catholic, in this creed, is a word meaning universal, all Christians everywhere.
**And, if you’re wondering how in the world to sing the first line, it’s like this: God uh-of Go-od, Li-ight uh-of Li-ights.